History and Neorealism

In This Review

History and Neorealism
Cambridge University Press, 2010
406 pp. $33.99

The Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke famously remarked that "no plan survives contact with the enemy." The same might be said for theories of international relations after they make contact with the real world. In this collection of essays, leading diplomatic historians and international relations theorists explore the limits of realist theory in explaining why great powers do what they do. Although their critiques are not new -- indeed, scholars spent the two decades after the appearance of Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics in 1979 debating the explanatory claims of the balance of power -- this book does illuminate how great powers' ideologies, domestic politics, and shifting power relationships shape their behavior. The authors all focus on historical moments when major states defied the expectations of balance-of-power theory, failing to respond to rising threats, pursuing appeasement, or going overboard. Paul Schroeder finds realism's balancing logic insufficient to explain patterns of conflict in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Niall Ferguson examines German foreign policy during the Munich crisis. May, one of the volume's editors, explores the "underuse" of military power. The book is not really a devastating indictment of realism -- after all, the authors all use realism as a base line from which to identify the other factors at work. But it does show the fruitfulness of exploring the interplay between history and theory.

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